A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2)(14)


by Sarah J. Maas

The male blanched. “Gratitude, my lord, but none is needed.” His eyes gobbled me up, widening. “The debt is paid.”

The sweat on my palms felt thicker, warmer. My mare stomped a hoof on the ruddy dirt street.

“Please,” Lucien said, bowing his head gracefully. “The effort to rebuild is our burden to share. It would be our honor.”

The male shook his head. “The debt is paid.”

And so it went at every place we stopped in the village: Lucien dismounting, asking to help, and polite, reverent rejections.

Within twenty minutes, we were already riding back into the shadows and rustle of the woods.

“Did he let you take me today,” I said hoarsely, “so that I’d stop asking to help rebuild?”

“No. I decided to take you myself. For that exact reason. They don’t want or need your help. Your presence is a distraction and a reminder of what they went through.”

I flinched. “They weren’t Under the Mountain, though. I recognized none of them.”

Lucien shuddered. “No. Amarantha had … camps for them. The nobles and favored faeries were allowed to dwell Under the Mountain. But if the people of a court weren’t working to bring in goods and food, they were locked in camps in a network of tunnels beneath the Mountain. Thousands of them, crammed into chambers and tunnels with no light, no air. For fifty years.”

“No one ever said—”

“It was forbidden to speak of it. Some of them went mad, started preying on the others when Amarantha forgot to order her guards to feed them. Some formed bands that prowled the camps and did—” He rubbed his brows with a thumb and forefinger. “They did horrible things. Right now, they’re trying to remember what it is to be normal—how to live.”

Bile burned my throat. But this wedding … yes, perhaps it would be the start of that healing.

Still, a blanket seemed to smother my senses, drowning out sound, taste, feeling.

“I know you wanted to help,” Lucien offered. “I’m sorry.”

So was I.

The vastness of my now-unending existence yawned open before me.

I let it swallow me whole.

CHAPTER

4

A few days before the wedding ceremony, guests began arriving, and I was grateful that I’d never be High Lady, never be Tamlin’s equal in responsibility and power.

A small, forgotten part of me roared and screamed at that, but …

Dinner after dinner, luncheons and picnics and hunts.

I was introduced and passed around, and my face hurt from the smile I kept plastered there day and night. I began looking forward to the wedding just knowing that once it was over, I wouldn’t have to be pleasant or talk to anyone or do anything for a week. A month. A year.

Tamlin endured it all—in that quiet, near-feral way of his—and told me again and again that the parties were a way to introduce me to his court, to give his people something to celebrate. He assured me that he hated the gatherings as much as I did, and that Lucien was the only one who really enjoyed himself, but … I caught Tamlin grinning sometimes. And truthfully, he deserved it, had earned it. And these people deserved it, too.

So I weathered it, clinging to Ianthe when Tamlin wasn’t at my side, or, if they were together, letting the two of them lead conversations while I counted down the hours until everyone would leave.

“You should head to bed,” Ianthe said, both of us watching the assembled revelers packing the great hall. I’d spotted her by the open doors thirty minutes ago, and was grateful for the excuse to leave the gaggle of Tamlin’s friends I’d been stuck talking to. Or not talking to. Either they outright stared at me, or they tried so damn hard to come up with common topics. Hunting, mostly. Conversation usually stalled after three minutes.